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Archive Report: US Forces
1941 - 1945

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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8th Air Force
17.03.1945 849th Bomb Squadron (H) B-17G 43-38046 1st Lt. Arthur Stern

Operation: Bitterfeld (Mission #892), Germany

Date: 17th March 1945 (Saturday)

Unit: 490th Bombardment Group (H), 849th Bombardment Squadron (H), 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force

Type: B-17G

Serial No: 43-38046

Code: W8:?

Location: Vicinity of Bad Camberg, Germany

Base: Eye (Station #134), Suffolk, England

Pilot: 1st Lt. Arthur Stern O-828823 AAF Age? Killed (1)

Co Pilot: FO. Clifton Walter Nippert T-0005230 AAF Age 22. Killed (1)

Navigator: 2nd Lt. Edmund Merlin DeWahl O-2069965 AAF Age 22. Killed (1)

Togglier: Sgt. Willard Bewley Fay 20221396 AAF Age 27. Killed (1)

Radio/Op: Sgt. George Vincent Devlin 33784012 AAF Age 21. Killed

Engineer: S/Sgt. James C. Rivers 39290400 AAF Age? Killed (1)

Ball Turret: Sgt. John Binford Terry Jr. 34926449 AAF Age 31. Killed (1)

Waist Gunner: Sgt. Jimmie Ray Heathman 37630603 AAF Age 19. Survived (2)

Tail Gunner: Sgt. Edward Cooper Holdren 33882650 AAF Age 21. Killed (1)

One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from 23rd February 1945.

Togglier - When it was required for all aircraft in a Squadron formation to drop their bombs simultaneously, the designated Bombardier was on the lead aircraft. The task of the Bombardiers in the rest of the formation was to drop their bombs when the lead aircraft dropped theirs. When there were personnel shortages the role of Bombardier was carried out by an enlisted crew member and was designated as the Togglier.


B-17G 43-38046 took off from Eye in Suffolk on the morning of the 17th March 1945 on a mission to bomb the Bitterfeld oil refinery located north of Leipzig.

En route to the target 43-38046 was involved in a mid-air collision with B-17G 43-38071 Magnetic Maggie, flown by 2nd Lt. Robert H. Tennenberg from the 414th Bomber Sqn (97th Bombardment Group (H)). 43-38046 was seen to break up in the air and no parachutes were observed. The last known position of the aircraft was reported as being over or near Bad Camberg.

It was reported that the formation was flying through some bumpy air during which it was believed that 43-38046, flying below Magnetic Maggie, drifted upwards and the two aircraft collided. Magnetic Maggie was seen falling out of formation and heading toward Allied territory with a severely damaged nose section. The aircraft carried out an emergency landing at Sint Truden (also known as Brustem airfield (A-92)) in Belgium. The crew survived the collision and the landing. However, as a result of the collision the remains of Sgt. George V. Devlin from 43-38046 was found lodged in the nose of the aircraft.

B-17G 43-38071 Magnetic Maggie (Credit: Fold3)

No official documentation has been found that provides any information as to the crash site of 43-38046 or the fate of the crew except for Sgt. Devlin. It was not until after hostilities ceased that the remains of the other crew members were recovered.

(1) Research has determined that one of the other seven crew members, excluding Sgt. Devlin, also parachuted from the aircraft and was the victim of hostile action after he had landed. The name of the victim has not been established. The rationale being that this aircraft was the only US loss in the area on this day.

The fate of the unidentified airman was established at a General Military Court which was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 18th to 22nd September 1947.

One German national was accused that he did at or near Engenhahn, Germany on or about the 18th March 1945, wrongfully killing a member of the United States Army, who was then and there an unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.

The accused was a Heinrich Franke who was a former SS-Scharführer (Cpl) and a member of the Nazi party.

The court heard that on or about 17th March 1945, an American airman was delivered to the SS Police Battalion based in Idstein, Germany. The commanding officer, a SS-Sturmbannführer (Maj) Bunke, decided to send him to Oberursel and had him lodged for the night at the local police station. The next day Franke was sent to the office of the acting Bürgermeister (Mayor), a man named Zimpelmann, to pick up the airman with orders to march him to Oberursel a distance of 25 km.

At Eschenhahn the airman requested a drink of water from a German lady and over the objections of Franke she provided one. Franke told a bystander that he was heading to Oberursel when asked where he was going. The bystander told him that he was heading in the wrong direction to which Franke replied in words to the effect that he will go whichever way he decides. Shortly thereafter the airman was found shot to death and lying on the forest road between Eschenhahn and Engenhahn.

Note: Oberursel lies almost directly to the east of Idstein. Eschenhahn lies directly south of Idstein and Engenhahn lies south of Eschenhahn.

Franke admitted to killing the airman and that he shot him from close range with a pistol only a few centimetres from the back of his head. However, he claimed that the airman was trying to escape but admitted that he did not tell him to halt before shooting him.

The airman was initially buried at the Engenhahn cemetery. After the body as exhumed the pathologist’s opinion was the the cause of death was a gunshot wound with the entry at the back of the neck.

At the occupation by the American army Franke fled to the French zone where he lived under an assumed name until he was arrested in August 1947. He admitted that he killed an English airman on the 3rd February 1945 under similar circumstances to this case.

The identity of the English airman has yet to be established.

The court considered that his testimony contained many contradictions and probably concluded that there was no attempt by the airman to escape and that the killing was premeditated.

The count found Franke guilty of the charge and sentenced him to death. He was hanged at the War Criminal Prison No.1 at Landsberg on the 29th October 1948.

(2) The fate of Sgt. Heathman was listed as missing in action until a General Military Court was convened at Dachau, Germany during the period 10th January to 21st March 1947.

Six German nationals were charged (Charge No. 9 of 10) that they did, on the 18th March 1945, at or near Wallrabenstein, Germany, wilfully, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of a member of the United States army, believed to be Jimmie R. Heathman, ASN 37630603, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.

Those charged were Jürgen Stroop, the former Higher SS (Schutzstaffel) and Police Leader in the SS main district of Rhein-Westmark and former SS Generalleutnant (Major General) of the Waffen SS; Hans Trummler who was a former SS Oberführer (Notionally the same level as a Brigadier General), an Oberst (Col.) in the police and commander of the Security Police and the SD (Security Service of the SS) in the district of Rhein-Westmark; Otto Somann who had been Trummler’s predecessor.

Also charged were Georg Best, a former Waffen SS-Major and the Commanding Officer of the Werwolf school at Wallrabenstein for Wehrkreis (Military district) XII; an Erwin Goss, a former Waffen SS-Obersturmführer (1st Lt.) and the Director of the Werwolf school; a Heinrich Matthias Michely, a former Waffen SS-Private (probably an SS-Sturmmann) and an instructor at the Werwolf school.

Werwolf was a Nazi plan, which began development in 1944, to create a resistance force which would operate behind enemy lines as the Allies advanced through Germany. At the Wallrabenstein school, SS members and Hitler Youth were trained in the use of small arms and explosives.

The court heard that an American airman was captured on or about the 17th March 1945 at about 14:00 hrs by an unnamed member of the SS. Michely then took him to the Werwolf school, located in the village school building across from the church, where he was interrogated until about 15:30 hrs. Later that evening, at about 19:00 hrs, Goss ordered Michely to take the airman to Idstein and kill him on the way. This order conformed with an order from Stroop, to the effect that Allied airmen were to be killed, which was relayed through Best. Michely left the school on foot with the airman in the direction of Idstein. En route he directed the airman onto a small road off the highway. Here Michely shot the airman in the back three times with Sgt. Heathman’s own sidearm. Michely admitted that because of the encroaching darkness he fired another two shots into the airman’s head to ensure that he was dead. He then removed the airman’s dog tags, his watch and his bracelet, which bore the name Jimmie Ray Heathman. He returned to the school and reported the execution of the order to Goss and made a written report which was transmitted to Best for the attention of Stroop. With Goss’s permission he kept the watch and bracelet for himself.

Sgt. Heathman was later buried in the cemetery at Wallrabenstein by a Philipp Buhlmann, who was an instructor at the Werwolf school, and other unknown individuals.

The court found Stroop guilty of transmitting orders regarding the illegal treatment of captured Allied airmen and sentenced him to death by hanging. Trummler was found not guilty on this charge, however he and Stroop were additionally found guilty on charge 4, charge 5 and charge 6.

Stroop was subsequently extradited to Poland and executed there for other crimes on the 6th March 1952.

The court found Michely guilty of killing Sgt. Heathman and Goss of being complicit in the killing. Both were sentenced to death by hanging. Michely had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment which was then reduced to 30 years and later to 25 years. He was subsequently paroled on the 3rd August 1954. Goss was found guilty on another 2 of the 10 charges and was executed on the 15th October 1948 at Landsberg.

Best was found guilty of issuing the killing order and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment commencing on the 8th May 1945. He was paroled in March 1954.

Somann was found not guilty on this charge but was found guilty of 2 of the 10 charges and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment commencing on the 30th May 1945. He was released in May 1949.

Burial Details:

Above: 1st Lt. Stern. (Credit: Des Philippet)

1st Lt. Arthur Stern. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten in Block ZZ, Row 1, Grave 13. Relocated to Plot H, Row 7, Grave 8. Son to Robert Stern of Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA.

Above: FO Nippert. (Credit: Des Philippet)

FO. Clifton Walter Nippert. Air Medal, Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, in Block ZZ, Row 1, Grave 24. Relocated to Plot E, Row 14, Grave 18. Born on the 11th August 1922. Son to Arthur Nippert of Saint Charles, Missouri, USA

Above: 2nd Lt. DeWahl (Credit: Jackie Mitzel)

2nd Lt. Edmund Merlin DeWahl. Repatriated and interred on the 10th February 1949 at the Crystal Lake Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota in Section 18, Lot 101, Grave 3. Born on the 7th September 1922. Son to Carl N. and Minnie Cecelia (née Olstad) DeWahl of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Above Sgt. Fay (Credit: Chuck Hilton - FindAGrave and courtesy of Janice La Scala)

Sgt. Willard Bewley Fay. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred on the 14th April 1949 at the Beverly National Cemetery, Beverly, New Jersey in Plot H,0,162. Born on the 1oth August 1917. Husband to Sarah C. (née Remsbecker) Fay of Queens, New York, USA.

Above: Sgt. Devlin. (Credit: Dominique Potier)

Sgt. George Vincent Devlin. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, in Block B, Row 7, Grave 156. Relocated to Plot B, Row 38, Grave 1. Born on the 2nd March 1924. Son to James T. and Alice B. Devlin of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Above: S/Sgt. Rivers (Credit: Des Philippet)

S/Sgt. James C. Rivers. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten in Block ZZ, Row 4, Grave 98. Relocated to Plot H, Row 11, Grave 18. Son to Bessie Rivers of El Monte, California, USA.

Above Sgt. Terry Jr. (Credit: Michel Beckers)

Sgt. John Binford Terry Jr. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart. Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block XX, Row 12, Grave 281. Relocated to Plot B, Row 17, Grave 28. Born on the 25th April 1914. Son to John Binford and Lillian Elizabeth (née Turner) Terry. Husband to Edna Louise (née McMillan) Terry of Newport, Mississippi, USA.

Above: Sgt. Heathman (Credit: Des Philippet and Wanda Lutsford)

Sgt. Jimmie Ray Heathman. Air Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters). Initially interred at the Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Block XX, Row 12, Grave 284. Relocated to Plot J, Row 17, Grave 11. Memorial stone placed at the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Paris, Missouri. Born on the 21st September 1925. Son to Amos Ray and Anna Lillian (née Wilson) Heathman and husband to Hazel Earlene (née Byars) Heathman of Jackson County, Missouri, USA.

Sgt. Edward Cooper Holdren. Air Medal (Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster) Purple Heart. Repatriated and interred at the Rose Family Cemetery in Bedford, Virginia. Born on the 11th May 1923. Son to Edward Hypes and Lillie Ethel (née Rose) Holdren of Bedford, Virginia, USA.

Researched by Ralph Snape and Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with additional thanks to Traugott for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’. Addition of narrative describing a second War Crime (Sep 2021). Thanks to Janice La Scala for the grave marker image for Sgt. Fay. (Jan 2022).

RS & TV 21.01.2022 - Grave marker for Sgt. Fay added

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Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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